Rory MacDonald (PFL)

PFL 2021 5 Preview and Predictions

After shocking the MMA world with one of the best events in promotional history, the Professional Fighters League returns with another stacked fight card on Thursday, June 17. The fight card will include five light-heavyweight contests and five welterweight bouts.

With only three welterweight fighters having more than three points on the season, PFL 5 features two welterweight playoff spots up for grabs. Divisional frontrunners Ray Cooper III and Rory MacDonald will also be in action as they look to continue their respective reigns of terror.

The main event will be the second stop in MacDonald’s PFL career. Despite dominating in his first fight, MacDonald will have to be ready for a war against fellow UFC veteran Gleison Tibau. MacDonald has been in some of the greatest MMA fights of all time, but this will be one of his toughest challenges yet. After losing in the first bout of the 2021 season, Tibau comes into this fight in need of a quick finish. Both fighters have the potential to finish the fight early, but only one can come out victorious.


In the co-headliner, Cooper, the reigning PFL champion, looks to secure the top seed in the welterweight division with a win against Nikolay Aleksakhin. These fighters had completely different starts to the 2021 season, but both still have the ability to make the playoffs.

This fight card also features the opportunity for two more welterweights to secure their spots in the postseason. Five welterweights have the opportunity to secure a playoff spot with a first-round finish.

Although the light-heavyweight standings are not as close in points, Jordan Young still has a solid opportunity to break into the top four with a win. Several other fighters have one last chance to extend their 2021 PFL run into the postseason.

PFL 2021 5 kicks off with six prelim fights on ESPN+ at 5:30 p.m. ET. The four-fight main card follows on ESPN2 at 9 p.m. ET.

UFC veterans Rory MacDonald and Gleison Tibau scrap in the headliner. What does Tibau need to do in order to score the upset win?

MacDonald came into the PFL with a lot of hype, and rightfully so. He was able to exceed expectations when he debuted with a first-round submission against Curtis Millender. Although MacDonald will surely be in the playoffs, he is still hungry for another win during the regular season. His well-rounded skill set and experience make him a dangerous opponent for anyone.

The only problem is that MacDonald’s opponent has more experience than anyone in the division. Tibau has previously fought a who’s who at 155 pounds in the UFC. Since then, he has reinvented himself at 170 pounds in the PFL. Unfortunately, he lost his first fight of the season and is now in a bad position for the playoffs. He will have to not only beat MacDonald but also finish him as soon as possible. The experience of 49 pro fights teaches you what is needed to win under pressure. Tibau will need this knowledge as he hunts for a quick finish.

Tibau needs to put the pressure on MacDonald immediately. We have seen MacDonald struggle with pressure during some of his previous losses. Tibau has to come out actively and control the pace of the fight. His main problem is having a mental timer go off in his head because of the need for a first-round finish to make the playoffs. Tibau has little room for error. He must create chaos early and capitalize on any opportunity that arises.

MacDonald has a great team at Sanford MMA. They most likely will have him in the best shape of his life. It will be easier said than done to finish a fighter of MacDonald’s caliber.

The welterweight division’s playoff picture is wide open, with only MacDonald and Ray Cooper III already sitting at six points each. What other two 170-pounders score big wins to secure playoff spots?

One of the best features of PFL is the playoff build-up. This year, the welterweight division allows any fighter to make the playoffs with a big performance at PFL 5. Three fighters have zero points, two have -1 points, two have one point, and João Zeferino has three points. It becomes even more interesting because two fighters, Sadibou Sy and Nikolai Aleksakhin, have one point and are going up against extremely tough opponents. The fact of the matter is that a first-round finish should be able to put any fighter in the playoffs.

The first fighter that could land one of the playoff spots is Aleksei Kunchenko. The 37-year-old Russian was once 20-0 and fighting in the UFC. After receiving a massive high in confidence, he lost two straight fights and was cut by the organization. He now looks to make a run at the $1 million prize in the 2021 PFL season. Unfortunately, he was forced to withdraw from his first fight, leaving him with -1 points on the season. He has one last chance here to make the playoffs. His opponent, the aforementioned Sy, is in a similar situation, with only one point.

Another fighter with a good chance at making the playoffs is the aforementioned Zeferino. After earning three points in his first fight, the Brazilian needs another win to solidify his standing. He looks to record his fifth straight win and clinch a playoff spot. Zeferino has an experience and recent success advantage over his opponent, Jason Ponet. Cooper was able to completely overwhelm Ponet in his first fight and finish him via first-round submission. Zeferino just needs to stick to his game plan and limit his mistakes. He is the better fighter and should be able to pull out this win.

The light-heavyweight picture is a little more clear, but defending champ Emiliano Sordi is on the bubble right now. Will he prove successful against Dan Spohn and clinch a spot in the postseason?

Sordi looks to hold off Jordan Young from stealing his playoff spot.

Spohn must take advantage of the six points for a first-round knockout to make the playoffs, but Sordi has been an absolute force to be reckoned with since joining the PFL. Sordi’s only PFL loss came in 2018 against Bozigit Ataev. Since then, he has won six straight fights and became the 2019 PFL champ. His combination of power and aggression has made him a dangerous opponent in this division. Sordi continued his winning streak with a decision nod in his first fight of the 2021 season.

One flaw shown from Spohn’s first loss was his lack of ability to deal with pressure. Although it was different, because Spohn’s opponent was a wrestler, Sordi’s aggression can still be a huge factor in this fight. Spohn is desperate to save his season, but Sordi is not the opponent to do that against.

Sordi should be able to avoid any early trouble and control the pace throughout the fight. His path to the playoffs is set, and the only thing left to do is beat Spohn.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

One fight with the potential to steal the show is the clash between Ray Cooper lll and Nikolay Aleksakhin. This fight isn’t completely underrated, but it is not being talked about enough.

The former champion and current frontrunner Cooper looks to continue his road to another $1 million prize. Meanwhile, Aleksakhin is in need of a win after getting just one point from his no-contest in his first appearance of the season. This fight is an interesting stylistic match-up and features major playoff implications.

Since joining the PFL in 2018, Cooper has produced six electrifying knockout finishes. The Hawaiian reached the top of the world when he won the 2019 PFL championship. He was awarded the million-dollar prize and given a platform that has helped him grow into one of the most well-known fighters on the roster.

Cooper’s ability to stay calm during fight week and then explode in the cage has made him a dangerous fighter over the years. Although he is sitting comfortably with five points, Cooper will come out swinging with the hopes of taking the top seed away from Rory MacDonald.

Aleksakhin has other plans. Unfortunately, an accidental eye poke against Sadibou Sy brought an end to their outing with a no-contest ruling. Aleksakhin was devastated after looking to ride the momentum from his seven-fight winning streak. The 30-year-old Russian has a 26-5 overall record and experience in several top-tier promotions. His combination of power and footwork has created many finishes throughout his career. When at his best, Aleksakhin is easily one of the best fighters on the roster.

In the past, Cooper’s main advantage has been his combination of power, speed, and finishing ability. However, he has struggled at times when he does not get the finish. That could be an issue in this fight, because Aleksakhin is not an easy out.

The idea of a fighter needing a quick finish against Cooper makes for a potential war.

Fight Pick
Main Card (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET)
WW: Rory MacDonald vs. Gleison Tibau MacDonald
WW: Ray Cooper III vs. Nikolay Aleksakhin Cooper
LHW: Emiliano Sordi vs. Dan Spohn Sordi
LHW: Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira vs. Chris Camozzi Ferreira
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET)
LHW: Antônio Carlos Júnior vs. Vinny Magalhães Júnior
LHW: Marthin Hamlet vs. Cory Hendricks Hamlet
WW: João Zeferino vs. Jason Ponet Zeferino
WW: Magomed Magomedkerimov vs. Curtis Millender Magomedkerimov
LHW: Tom Lawlor vs. Jordan Young Young
WW: Sadibou Sy vs. Alexey Kunchenko Kunchenko